Retail Sales Up in 2011: A Glimpse of Hope?

by Tim on January 13, 2012

retail sales

The U.S. Census Bureau just released the MARTS report yesterday (January 12th) showing the sales data for U.S. retail and food services.

Time out.  Before we get further, let’s explain what the MARTS report is and why it’s good to know about.

First, the why.  It’s sales data that gives us a glimpse into how the consumers are spending their money.  Why is this important to know?  Because consumer spending helps to create jobs.

Now for the whatAccording to the U.S. Census Bureau, MARTS (short for: Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services):

“provides early estimates of monthly sales for companies in the retail trade and food services sectors.  The United States Code, Title 13, authorizes this survey and provides for voluntary responses. This survey covers retail companies with one or more establishments that sell merchandise and related services to final consumers. These firms provide data on dollar value of retail sales for selected establishments.”

In plain English please…

Over 5,000 retail and food service firms were randomly selected to provide the data for the report.  The data was then weighted and benchmarked to represent the over 3 million retail and food service businesses in the United States.

The report showed that retail and food services generated $400.6 billion in sales during 2011.  To put that into perspective, it is a 7.7% increase over 2010.  That’s a pretty significant leap forward and is a sign that the economy was definitely on a rebound, especially during the last part of 2011.

Details…I Need More Details!

Fascinating stuff, isn’t it.  Well it gets even better.  The U.S. Census Bureau gives all sorts of retail sales data for free.  Nice huh? We can tell which sectors performed best and which areas were just hanging in there.


Highest Performers in 2011

  • Gasoline Stations: Up 17.7% from 2010
  • Non Store Retail (Online): Up 12.5% from 2010
  • Automobile Dealers: Up 9.9% from 2010

Gas prices were lower this year compared to last year, which most likely led to the higher sales.  The non-store retail growth of 12.5% is interesting to note because online sales predictions have been all over the place.  The most surprising was the third place finisher: automobile dealers.  Sales for cars (including dealers and autoparts) came in just under 10% for 2011, which is impressive.

Lowest Performers in 2011

  • General Merchandise: Up 3.5% from 2010
  • Furniture & Home Furn. Stores: Up 1.9% from 2010
  • Electronics & Appliance Stores: Up 0.4% from 2010

The big box stores saw a very modest growth figure of 3.5%, but were also handed a double-whammy.  In order to lure shoppers into the store (as opposed to the non-store, online alternatives) they had to lower their prices even more.  This meant less profits for the stores, so the 3.5% growth in sales doesn’t necessarily translate into 3.5% profits.  Furniture and electronic/appliance stores also saw insignificant growth (if any) during 2011.

Now see, economics can be interesting if you stick with it. :)

So thinking back to 2011, did you notice your consumption patterns changing compared to 2010?  Did you drive more during Christmas?  Did you shop online more compared to 2010? 

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